I looked at my daughter’s face and knew she needed sanctuary.
She needed haven from the constant flow of news stories, social media livestreams, and public discussions that told her, in rising and overlapping chorus, that even mundane situations—going for a run like Ahmaud or getting a traffic ticket like Philando or sleeping like Breonna or sitting at home eating a bowl of ice cream like Botham—might cost her everything.
The hard pain of grief, fear, worry and anxiety was carved all over her soft, beautiful features. And I knew I’d do for her what my mother and grandmother had done for me: Make a refuge for her and my family, a place of rest and respite, even beyond the loving and reassuring space our home has always been.
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I want to keep our home a space where healing can happen and wholeness takes place. Where peace relieves anxiety and joy balances grief.
Like every Black mom, I want a place where my daughter can be her whole self, inhale deeply and exhale slowly, know her own value as a human being, and keep faith that she is known, loved, valued, safe and protected.
When I was a little girl growing up in legal racial segregation not so long ago, my mama, daddy and grandmama worked hard to protect my innocence and dreams and encourage my possibilities as a child. This despite all the “Colored Only” signs and everything those signs meant—all the big and small ways they tried to tell me that I didn’t matter.
My family made sure that I came through those almost unbearable times a complete person.
Because they made safe places for me: soft spaces where I could exist in a hard world. In their homes were rooms where the light of joy spilled out and laughter filled the walls, where the smells of soul food promised soul satisfaction, the sounds of music moved bodies and spirits, the power of prayer healed and the freedom to exist—to just be—empowered me.
I know that’s exactly what we want for our families now.
Nearly every Black woman I know, have talked with, listened to, put my arms around, or read experiences dread, anxiety and worry when sons, daughters, brothers, husbands, fathers or mothers leave the house. We’re imagining what they could encounter, praying for their safe return and anticipating what they need emotionally after coming back.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot and want to share some tips and ideas for transforming an already loving home into a sanctuary.
As I saw my family pushed to the brink of marrow-deep emotional exhaustion like so many other Black families, I realized that I was going to have to be more intentional in making sure we practiced daily and regular acts of self-care together.
For many sisters in my circle, that means leaning into the power of prayer and the peace of meditation even more heavily. Making dedicated spaces for stillness and quietude to bring our families into can be even more powerful.
Prayer closets, prayer and meditation rooms, and other calming spaces can be literal escapes from the world outside, from our phones and social media feeds—and most importantly from negative vibes and forces that may have seeped into the hearts and spirits of our families.
Think about creating physical spaces dedicated to quiet, reflection, breathing deeply, letting go and pouring into one another spiritually. These can be repurposed spaces in our homes, with added soft lighting or candles, pillows, blankets, prayer or vision boards, journals to hold prayers or meditations, flowers and soft, spirit-healing music.
My family calls our guest bedroom “The Serenity Room” because of the tranquil golden light that paints the walls in the evening. Every day we go in, sit on the floor and watch the sun slide down into the purple gloaming of the coming night. We clear our minds, play soft music and let go of the heaviness of the day, feeling safe and more connected to one another.
With everything we’re up against that makes us feel anxious, sad, angry, off-center and decentered, actively practicing self-love is more important than ever.
It’s hard to be okay when we’re not safe in certain spaces. It’s draining to deal with double-consciousness, the mind-work of having to scrutinize ourselves the way others do just so we can be safe. It’s heartbreaking to explain to our children, whose natural beauty we glorify, that we can be expelled from school or fired from work just for wearing our natural hair.
There are reasons we say, “Black is beautiful.”
It’s up to us to keep saying what is true in a world that too often doesn’t see the truth about us.
So, we’re loving and honoring our Blackness, our history, our culture and each other even more and rejecting the negative messaging that devalues our humanness.
We know our value. We know our measure. We know our meaning. But that knowledge is constantly threatened unless we shore it up and rebuild it in each other. We are the ones to see, believe and protect the beauty, vibrancy, power, and positivity of us.
That’s why I believe active and intentional affirmation is an important part of self-love.
In my family, we still need that kind of soul-replenishing affirmation—despite the fact that we show and tell one another “I love you” all. The. Time.
So I focus on crafting some self-loving and caring words to fill ourselves up.
I start with affirmations about who we are as Black people. With all the misunderstanding about us hanging in the air we breathe, I want to remind my family of some true and soul-sustaining things.
It’s important that we raise praise for hair, praise for our array of skin shades, praise for our rhythm, style and ways. Praise for our creativity and dreams. Praise for how we are—from skin to soul.
I share affirmations like these about us as a people:
Our Black shines beautiful.
Resilience is in our DNA.
We drive, survive, thrive and win.
We’re dope in every dimension.
Proudly poppin’ melanin!
We’re always pulling for each other.
We are always rising.
Maybe they’re affirmations to hang up, to share aloud as mantras, to write on table napkins at breakfast or dinner together or to slip into lunch boxes and briefcases as family heads out for the day.
I write affirmations to support us as a family:
- Our family is soul-blessing love.
- In this house we are Soul.Full and Hope.Full.
- Our family stands. Stands up. Stands strong.
- We’re going to be all right because we got us.
- Our family is unshakable faith and unbreakable love.
And I write affirmations to each of my loved ones that focus on them as unique and important people so that they could feel seen, understood and lifted up in just the way they need to be:
- Love you for your shine, your smart, your brave.
- You bless any room you’re in.
- I see you being brave.
- I love who you are and how you are.
- You matter to me and to this world.
- You touch lives and move hearts, and that matters.
- You can still make all your dreams come through.
- The world might not be ready for you. But you’re more than ready for the world.
Our little ones especially deserve to be protected with the force field of self-love, confidence and pride:
I wrote this especially for our little bitties for Mahogany’s Uplifted and Empowered Collection, cards by Black writers to support us through these times.
From the loosest curls
to the tightest ‘fro,
Black kids make
the whole world glow!
In my home we read hopeful and empowering things.
The novels of literary greats like Toni Morrison, the folklore of Zora Neale Hurston, the poetry of griots like Lucille Clifton, and the thought-provoking and justice-seeking works of Ibram Kendi and Tarana Burke sit on our shelves. And Black artists like Faith Ringgold, Romare Bearden and Radcliffe Bailey hang on our walls, reflecting their artistic interpretation of Black experience, testifying to the beauty of our survival and the spirit-renewing richness of our culture.
We listen to music together. We put the earbuds away and put our playlists together to share music, from the spirituals of the Fisk Jubilee Singers to the gospel of Mahalia Jackson, from the blues of B.B. King to the jazz of Miles Davis, from the soul music of James Brown to the hip-hop of Kendrick Lamar and the R&B of H.E.R.
And we dance and dance and dance.
Because when we’re vibing with the music and moving, liberation starts to happen. To rephrase the funk philosopher George Clinton, “Free your body and your mind will follow.”
We love sharing dances across generations of our family. Younger ones try to show the elders how to make new moves while the elders show the younger why “old school” will always be cool.
Another very soul-protecting thing I do is cook the food my foremothers made and pass down their stories to my family. I might pull out the big pot to make Grandma Josie’s collards and share how my six-foot-tall, take-no-mess Grandma liked her greens “pretty.”
Or I might put on my cast-iron skillet to fry my mama Sadie’s hot water cornbread and share how she is my first sacred memory.
Or my daughter and I might bake Great-Aunt Virgie’s tea cakes or Aunt Mildred’s oatmeal cookies, talking about how each woman was love and warmth walking on legs, and laughing about how using that much butter is illegal these days.
And we play together. For us it’s word and board games. But other families game together—play Spades, Tunk or Dominoes, or even grab the jump rope for some Double Dutch.
What matters is the cultural immersion, wrapping ourselves in what our people created.
I make sure my family is connected to our community’s tradition of resilience: our practice of getting back up when we’re knocked down.
Not the movie version of Black resilience where we’re always unbelievably and unrelentingly strong or martyrs who sacrifice and suffer endlessly through physical and emotional pain without consequence or human costs to ourselves.
I mean the resilience of real human beings who feel the pain of injustice deeply, collapse from anger, sadness, bewilderment and exhaustion, but are then picked up and held in the many loving arms of family and community—comforted, reassured, prayed over and lifted up before we move forward again.
That heritage of caring for one another has brought us to here and will always move us into the future.
In our community, claiming our joy is resistance to whatever presses down on us. Our joy is the way we rise. And in my home, we are militantly joyful.
We make celebrations out of small things and go bigger on big things. We cut up and kiki and don’t stop until we’re laughing loud and deep from the belly.
This is especially crucial for survival when life is at its hardest. Claiming joy doesn’t mean that we’re always happy or without stress or grief. It means making intentional room for joy makes joy more possible despite hard things.
Joy is the North Star I point my family towards daily. Because that’s the way to freedom, wholeness and healing.
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